Back in the old days, you’d be lucky to get your hands on basic toiletries, let alone a decent souvenir to bring home from Russia. Your only options would be sorry selections at the State Department Store or via the notorious black market where prices were high.
Nowadays, you name it you can get it; shopping has become a favoured pastime, especially in Moscow, where in the city centre there’s a wide selection of souvenir-type items to be found throughout various clothing boutiques, shoe stores, craft shops and art galleries.
Moscow’s premier shopping district can be found in the busy commercial district of Tverskpy, where you’ll find trendy little boutiques and big fancy shopping centres on Ulitsa Petrovka. The shopping strip culminates in Stoleshnikov Lane, a pedestrian-friendly strip with exclusive shops. The Arbat area of Moscow, namely Ulitsa Arbat, is a long-standing tourist attraction, littered with souvenir stalls and antique shops.
But Izmaylovo Market in outer Moscow is the number one spot for souvenir shopping, and is where you’ll be able to get your hands on classic souvenirs such as the ‘Matryoshka’ or Russian doll, ‘Pavlovoposadsky Platok’ or babushka scarf, and the fur hat with earflaps known as an ‘Ushanka’. The most symbolic and well-known souvenirs are listed below.
Matryoshka dolls, also known as Russian nesting dolls, are popular Russian souvenirs. The word ‘matryoshka’ is derived from the Russian female first name ‘Matryona’. Coming as a set of dolls of decreasing sizes one inside each other, they are often brightly painted and come in traditional styles—reminiscent of Russian folk art or more modern and often whimsical designs featuring anything from Communist leaders and Russian politicians to the Simpsons and Star Wars. The more intricately painted and the more dolls there are nested within, the higher the price.
Painted lacquer boxes are quintessential Russian souvenirs and since each item is unique, you can find the right one for almost anyone if you’re looking to give them a unique gift. Often depicting one of the classics, price depends on the quality and intricacy of the decorative painting. The cheapest start at around £15 and the more intricate detailed lacquer boxes can go for hundreds of pounds.
The failsafe Russian fashion souvenir is the fur ‘shapka’ or hat. You’ll probably end up wearing it while still in Russia if you are travelling during the winter, as it is so warm. Although usually made from rabbit fur, depending on how much you spend, you can get a shapka in pretty much all kinds of fur. Available in all sizes, you can even buy them for children.
Soviet Military Paraphernalia
Communist-era military souvenirs are always popular and make good gifts for those on a budget. As well as kitschy Soviet knick-knacks, you can find Soviet Army hats, Soviet pilot caps, pins, red banners with Lenin’s profile, and even full uniforms in some markets.
If you haven’t got time to visit Russia’s markets, you could always bring back some Russian vodka. Some well-known brands are Russky Standard or Stolichnaya, or you could get some ultra smooth Yuri Dolgoruki vodka produced by Moscow’s Kristall factory.
Remember that if you buy any paintings or antiques, you will need to get a certificate from the Ministry of Culture to present at customs when you leave the country. This is how “items of value to Russian culture” are prevented from leaving the country. Art galleries will usually help you through the formalities for a fee; antique shops usually leave you to sort the paperwork out yourself.
[Photo by pedrojperez]